State of redress

George Brandis is yet to respond to the letter on his desk. What it requests is not terribly complicated. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse says it needs an answer by Christmas. State attorneys-general would like one sooner.

The letter asks Brandis for his position on a national redress scheme for victims of child abuse, the royal commission’s key recommendation.

The elements of the scheme are simple: a direct and personal response from the institution where the abuse occurred, which includes detail of how future abuse will be prevented; access to appropriate psychological care; and a monetary payment that attempts to recognise the suffering of the abused.

The scheme would be largely funded by the states and institutions such as the Catholic Church, but it requires a federal framework. This is in part because of the unsatisfactory way current schemes have been run. There are too many roadblocks. Too much confusion. “In our view,” a statement from the commission reads, “the current civil litigation systems and past and current redress processes have not provided justice for many survivors.”

New South Wales and Victoria already support the redress scheme. They are committed to bringing other states and territories on board. The federal opposition also supports the scheme, although it has committed only $33 million in funding.

But the government itself has been silent. Without it, the key recommendation of the royal commission cannot be acted on.

What is at stake is extraordinary; the depth of suffering extreme. This royal commission has made more referrals for police investigation than any other in the country’s history. Already, 792 cases have been directed to authorities. There are more than police can process. Some 240 investigations are running, and 23 prosecutions are under way.

The commission has conducted more than 4200 private interviews with people who have been abused. Another 1400 are waiting to testify. Each week, that list grows by about 40.

Behind these numbers are terrible stories. They are stories of innocence betrayed and institutions that met these victims with unfeeling cruelty; institutions that conspired to help paedophiles and disregarded children, that prolonged for decades the abuse they knew was happening.

A scheme for the redress of this suffering can never be wholly sufficient. The trauma is too large, too various. But it offers a very basic level of understanding how a victim of child abuse might navigate a system of complaint and civil recourse.

It is expensive, but much of that cost will be to private institutions where abuse occurred. Beyond managing the scheme, the input from the federal government would be minimal.

Having seen the previous government’s courage in establishing the royal commission, the least this government could do is endorse its recommendations. The least George Brandis could do is respond to the letter on his desk.

Royal commission: 1800 099 340

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 7, 2015 as "State of redress".

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